It was mid-week and the entire garden was abuzz with the news about the Dhillons moving into beech bungalow. I wondered what it would be like, to have a new family move in; apparently, they were quite a couple, Roshni and Surinder. He, a robust, larger than life man, with hazel eyes, twirling moustache, and a penchant for ghazals (that, quite irreverently, he often did the slow bhangra to) and she, chubby, charming, outrageous and flirtatious in her patiala salwars. Their reputation preceded them and as soon as their transfer had been finalised, hundreds of stories about them flew about, causing many a spat between even the staidest of couples!
Preparations in earnest
Quietly, unobtrusively, all the memsaabs began planning day long trips to Jorhat, which boasted the one and only beauty parlour – not that their husbands even noticed their newly colored hair or pearly nails! Suddenly, plans were being made for a week-long welcome fest. The bawarchis were summoned and coerced to outdo themselves with their puff pastry, trifles, moussaka, masala dosas, et al!
I was possibly the only person who hadn’t met them yet and my head positively swam with all the information that was shared with me. I was intimidated to say the least, and grew uncharacteristically jittery about the welcome dinner at my place that was still a fortnight away.
As was customary, for the first couple of weeks, the newcomers didn’t have a single dinner at home, despite the fact that the crowd was the same and the working hours still ridiculous. It was party time like never before, night after night, till everyone had had them over!
A new friendship
I was delighted to meet Roshni, and even though she flirted unabashedly with Ashok, my husband, I thoroughly enjoyed her company. She was intelligent, attractive and had a wicked sense of humour! We grew to be good friends and spent quite a lot of time together, during the day over coffee, or on club days after tennis; high teas at the club after tennis were never enough and invariably led to poor old Joroo having to rustle up anda bhurji and parathas, while we stayed up long past our deadlines, chatting and singing and generally being boisterous.
Often, Roshni and Surinder would have one of their quicksilver quarrels that took us by surprise no matter how many times they happened; she would then flirt even more outrageously with anyone at all, hoping her husband would be jealous enough to pick a fight with the poor beleaguered chap at the receiving end of her affections, while he, equally contrary, would ignore her completely and turn his attention to the billiard cue at the pool table.
The wariness continued though, and most of the ladies got a little antsy when she hung around their husbands for longer than normal, and called out to her to join them by the window seats or their card game. She however, preferred being on the tennis courts for as long as she could, and then prop herself at the bar along with the men! She could talk at length about the maalibari or the new cows she’d recently bought, with equal gusto. She endeared herself to the women as well, with her outrageous jokes and generous tips on fashion, beauty and cookery. Quite a remarkable business head she had too, and turned those newly transported jersey cows into a pretty lucrative business, supplying fresh milk to all the bungalows and sweet shops in town.
Shopping trips or day long expeditions?
Before long, she had turned into the general consultant for hairstyles and new clothes for the younger lot and no shopping expedition was complete without her. Five or six of us would invariably pile into the Gypsy, armed with sandwiches, coffee, aloo tikkis and nimbu paani and make an amazing ‘day’ of it. I wondered if the other husbands were quite as pleased about these trips as mine was! Smart man, he knew, being a city bred girl, a day out of this kind would make sure I got home in a good mood and therefore wouldn’t pick on him or mope around the house like I was wont to do otherwise.
On one of these trips, we had all ventured out to help Roopa buy curtains, since as the newest memsaab, she was on a refurbishing spree. As always, we sang and munched through the two-hour drive into town and proceeded to pull out every single roll of fabric at the solitary furnishings store in Tinsukia, and turned up our combined noses at most of them.
Losing track of time
Buying furnishings is hungry work, so we then proceeded to look for a restaurant good enough for memsaabs to have a meal. I still cannot remember what we ate and where, but I do remember we had a very, very, very long lunch! A few of us enjoyed our post lunch ciggies and felt most urbane and languid, like we had just stepped out of ‘The Great Gatsby’. As a result, instead of heading back home by three o’clock, we were still in Tinsukia at half past five.
Priti, being one of the more responsible wives among us, had tried to keep us on track but had thrown up her hands in despair when we behaved like schoolgirls out of boarding school!
She couldn’t fathom what would happen next!